The most well-known version of “Strawberry Letter 23” was recorded by the Brothers Johnson in 1977. However, the song was first recorded five years earlier by Shuggie Otis, the artist who wrote the song.
As with so many other songs that mention mail in their lyrics, “Strawberry Letter 23” is about a love letter. Otis was inspired to write the song by a girlfriend who wrote letters to him on strawberry-scented stationery. He would return to the letter-writing theme two years later with his song “Island Letter”.
Though Otis’s original recording of “Strawberry Letter 23” was successful, the Brothers Johnson version of “Strawberry Letter 23” was a smash, reaching number five on the Hot 100 and number one on the Soul Singles chart. The Brothers Johnson, along with producer Quincy Jones, brought a funk influence to the composition, making the song more danceable than Otis’s lush, mellow approach.
In the years after the Brothers Johnson released their version, more than a few other artists have covered the song, and several more have sampled parts of it in their own work. But so far, none of those other artists have been identified with the song as strongly as the Brothers Johnson.